In the summer of 2017, something unusual happened at the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) annual conference in Chicago. A table set up by Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) in partnership with Human Rights Campaign (HRC) was removed after an attendee complained. The booth had been promoting compatibility between the LGBT lifestyle and Islam and was up for about five hours before a conference-goer paused and began arguing with the representatives. According to MPV, conference director Basharat Saleem asked those running the booth to pack up and leave, as their message wasn’t agreeable to a “family-oriented event.”
This dustup exposed a fault line running through the American Muslim experience: strategic alliances between Muslim organizations and the social justice left that violate socially conservative beliefs of actual Muslims attending their events and contributing funds. HRC, MPV, the Democratic party, and other progressive power blocs support gay marriage, abortion, drug legalization, and infringements on the rights of religious organizations and individuals. From trying to force religious organizations to provide birth control to campaigning to remove those who support traditional marriage from their jobs, these organizations aggressively target basic Islamic doctrine. But even Muslim organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have cozied up with LGBT advocacy and soft-pedaled issues like abortion at various times for the sake of political expediency and maintaining the Muslim-left alliance.
Islam encourages strong family life and social virtues and prohibits homosexual acts, drug use, and abortion on demand. Although some schools of Islamic jurisprudence have ruled that abortion is allowable prior to 120 days’ gestation—the time period at which the Prophet Muhammad said the soul enters the unborn baby in the womb—differences within Islam regarding abortion continue to this day, including stricter positions such as that of the Maliki school, which forbids abortion for any reason at any time apart from cases where carrying the pregnancy to term is a direct threat to the mother’s life. This is why organizations such as CAIR have made waves in the past for drawing the line and parting ways with their leftist brethren when it comes to practices such as partial-birth abortion, straightforwardly announcing Muslim opposition to such policies.
Muslim groups aren’t just dabbling in far-left social progressivism for fun or out of ignorance of their faith. They’re doing so for strategic reasons. Certainly, some genuine social progressives and radicals have found their way into the ranks of Muslim advocacy groups, but the majority are orthodox Muslims who follow their beliefs in daily life. Why, then, would they give HRC a seat at the largest American Muslim conference? What has led many American Muslims to sidestep their faith and become cheerleaders for rainbow families and the brave new world of same-sex marriage?
Broad swathes of the left are infused with a daily drip of critical theory in educational and media narratives. While intersectional feminism, with its victim hierarchy and sexual radicalism, is not at all compatible with Islam, Muslim organizations see much more potential for political and social acceptance from the left, which tends to be far more sympathetic on matters from Palestine to foreign policy to civil rights, than from the right. Moreover, some 58 percent of American Muslims are foreign-born, many from Pakistani and South Asian communities who are more concerned with the economic opportunities and freedom offered by the West than with upholding the particulars of their personal belief in public life. Particularly since 9/11, wide-ranging demonization of Muslims on the right has led to the perception among many American Muslims that there is essentially no choice but to ally with the left and band together with other marginalized voices, even if it means compromise on matters of doctrine. The infusion of LGBT propaganda and the movement’s alliance with American Muslims are certainly having an impact: A recent Pew survey found that approximately half of American Muslims believe homosexuality should be publicly acceptable. A decade ago, only a quarter of American Muslims believed that.
Thus, the odd couple of the Muslim-left alliance continues onward, picking up momentum. Gubernatorial candidate for Michigan Abdul El-Sayed follows this playbook down to the letter. He favors legalizing marijuana and advocates abortion “rights.” In principle, the Muslim-left alliance is flimsy and awkward, but as long as anti-Muslim sentiment surfaces among Trump-supporting populists and on the Christian right, we may expect more Muslim leaders to follow suit.
Indeed, although a traditional Muslim agrees much more with an Evangelical from the South on marriage, sexuality, and family values than with progressives, he is unlikely to band together with the Evangelical. A poll shows that a majority of white Evangelicals say Muslims don’t even belong in the United States. When Muslims learn of such sentiment, they know where they can find acceptance, which is on the left. Anti-Muslim rhetoric holds down any crossover of Muslims to the Republican party or cooperation with the conservative Christian camp.
Even Middle Eastern Christians react against Ted Cruz—famously booing him offstage in 2014 at a gala event. It’s hard for many Muslims to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a Zionist like Cruz, who joked in the 2016 election cycle about finding out whether “sand can glow in the dark.” Cruz was referring to carpet-bombing ISIS, as if the terror group wasn’t controlling Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul—full of innocent civilians under the harsh power of the terror group and likely to be killed by U.S. raids, as many were in both Mosul and Raqqa.
American Muslims, almost two-thirds of whom vote Democrat, are trying to find a place to fit in, but it can be difficult, particularly in a society in which they seem bound to embrace either the role of oppressed minority or exotic fundamentalist. As Emma Green writes in The Atlantic, there is no “one” American Muslim identity, but “U.S. Muslims—roughly 60 percent of whom are under 40—are going through a process that’s quintessentially American: finding new, diverse, self-constructed identities in their faith, ranging from fully secular to deeply pious.”
There are growing divisions, however, between young American Muslims and the secular religion of liberalism. American Muslims are generally following the trend of millennials as a whole and drifting from organized religion, but they’re still much more religious than the average American under forty. Although it’s easy to dismiss the fallout between ISNA and HRC as a hiccup in the Muslim-left alliance, it may turn out to foreshadow an inescapable divide between progressivism and Islam that can’t be overlooked. An increasing number of voices, from Hamza Yusuf to Sherman Jackson, Omar Suleiman, and Zaid Shakir, have defined a new and tenuous place for American Muslims: largely accordant with the left’s positions on race, foreign policy, the environment, and workers’ rights, but upholding the socially conservative beliefs of Islam in opposition to feminism, the LGBT lifestyle, libertinism, or fanatical individualism. Witness Shakir’s recent khutba (sermon) in which he exhorted Muslims to defend their “faith, tradition and legacy” from “Satanic” forces of Western-style feminism and progressivism, which twist the Qur’an and Islam into the service of secular and political agendas.
“The woman is abstracted from her family, abstracted from her community, abstracted from even her religious context and then her problems are viewed in isolation and abstraction,” Shakir charged. Western feminism is “disgusting because it’s a total adaptation of a secular framework,” he added. He went on to criticize the idea of independence and abstraction that underlies postmodern individualism, urging Muslims to turn back to Islam and prophetic guidance and away from false ideas of empowerment.
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women,” he continued, in a powerful denunciation worth quoting in full.
Some people might say that’s a “paternalistic, patriarchal statement” that they want no part of. And that’s one of the roots of the problem in our society. That’s one of the reasons men aren’t marrying women, because too many women are saying “I don’t need a man to take care of me.” . . . That’s why you have your 30-year-old sons living in your basements, not even trying. You pull the thread sometimes and the whole fabric unravels. We’ve had this social experiment foisted upon us and many Muslims fall for it. And one of the reasons many Muslims fall for it is they don’t have confidence in Allah, and they don’t have confidence in their Islam and they don’t have confidence in their Prophet and they don’t have confidence in divine guidance!
We see the alternative. Don’t complain that the men are a bunch of losers. Don’t complain about the school shootings. Don’t complain about the rampant suicides. Don’t complain about the opioid crisis. Don’t complain about men wanting to be women because they just think “I should be a woman”—six-foot-five, 300 pounds, should be playing on the Oakland Raiders. Don’t complain about the problem if you’re not willing to defend the solution that’s been working for thousands of years—prophetic guidance has protected humanity from the degeneracy we see today for thousands of years.
Consider also the remarks of prominent Muslim leader Omar Suleiman. He previously opposed gay marriage and homosexuality from an Islamic standpoint, but has softened recently on LGBT issues and enjoyed mainstream media coverage, leading to strong criticism from the right. Nevertheless, despite his accessions to the LGBT and other social leftist agendas, Suleiman is a good example of a conservative Muslim who is unwilling to be fit into a prescribed slot on the left. He wrote recently about how increasing numbers of Muslims are leaving behind non-Muslim expectations of them from the left, noting, “Frankly, more and more American Muslims are not willing to alter their identity to gain the half-hearted advocacy of any group that merely sees them as a political football.” Suleiman also observed, “In our polarized politics, the liberal who limits calls for inclusivity to ‘liberal Muslims,’ and the conservative who will not stand up for the ‘religious liberty’ of a conservative Muslim both betray their own ideals.”
The question remains: What does the future hold for American Muslims? Will they drift from their faith and fully embrace progressivism and rainbow radicalism, or will a growing contingent resist and carve out a new place in the electorate and society? With Muslims projected to become the second-largest religious group in the United States by 2040, it’s a matter well worth considering.
American Muslims have good reasons to part ways with their temporary left-wing friends and declare independence from the agendas and beliefs of more powerful social forces that want to use them. But they don’t have political clout or a significant place in the American experience. Islam’s roots in America go back to the very beginning. Some estimates hold that around one quarter of the black slaves brought to the colonies were practicing Muslims. But Islam in America has become the piece that doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit with the condescending view of the assimilation-desiring foreigner, nor with the cartoonish view of the dangerous outsider whose faith can never be welcomed as a worthy creed.
Muslims in America are in a precarious position—caught in a dilemma between a false friend and an open opponent. Islam, at heart, aligns with neither right nor left in an American political context. It is unique and comprehensive, based on a specific view of the human being, rights, and the purpose of life informed by God rather than men. Only the future will tell to what extent American Muslims define a place for themselves in American political culture.
Paul Rowan Brian is a freelance journalist.